People find hearing loss a devastating experience. It makes you feel isolated and alone, especially in a crowd. It cuts you off. I know that some of you and your loved ones struggle courageously with this. And loss of speech is equally difficult. Communication, however it is achieved, most commonly by hearing and speaking, is fundamental to being human. Our human relationships and communities are formed and maintained by communication; and they can be impaired by communication breakdowns.
II. Gospel: Mark 7:31-37
Our Gospel reading is about Jesus restoring communication and community. Like the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, Jesus opens us up, restores us to communion with God and with one another. That restoration is the reconciling work of Christ.
Dearly beloved, you and I are the man in the story. Like the deaf and mute man, we are hindered and impaired in our communion with God and our neighbours.
How is it that we are deaf?
So often, we plug our ears to God’s Word, to his Law and Gospel, his chastening and gracious voice. Sometimes our ears are plugged up with lies and misinformation instead. It’s often said nowadays that we live in an ‘age of misinformation’, much of it fueled by social media, and it can be very hard to cut through all of the noise.
So we are hard of hearing. We are also mute - we have a speech impediment. How many times have we failed to speak up for someone, or have we been silent to speak the truth out of fear? So often our tongues are tied up in idle talk or worse: cursing, deceit, gossip, slander and so on. And in our communication with God, we are silent: no prayer, no praise, no confession of sin or faith.
But friends, the gospel, the good news today is that Jesus Christ has the power, if we have the faith, to heal us. Notice how our Lord takes the man aside. He is not running some kind of healing show. He takes the man aside privately to attend to his personal needs. This is a moment about intimacy and communication. Jesus heals him first by opening his ears, then by loosing his tongue. Throughout the Gospel, hearing comes first (Rom. 10.17), then speaking.
Children learn to speak by listening to big people talk; and so, as we are all the children of God, let us remember to be swift to hear and slow to speak (James 1.19). Until we hear, we have nothing to say. As James tells us, our tongues are meant to praise God and build up one another, but we use these unruly members to curse God and to cut up one another. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be (James 3:9-10).
So we are the deaf-mute man in the story. The Lord Jesus wills to restore us, reconcile us to God and, in himself, to one another. He would restore us to communion, communication with God and one another. So he comes to open us up, to open our minds and hearts, to open our ears and our lips.
Jesus finds a way to communicate with the man, and he quietly and authoritatively commands, “Ephatha, Be opened.” The man is restored, whole again, both hearing and speaking. And the Gospel ends fittingly with both the proclamation and praise of Jesus, which even our Lord’s pleading cannot quell. Their tongues were released in joyous praise and proclamation. May the same be true for us today.
III. Epistle: 2 Corinthians 3:4-9
How may it be so?
Our ears can be opened and our tongues released because we are in a new covenant with God. That’s what Paul tells us in today’s first reading. He says that the Law of God condemns us - and it does so today.
Paul speaks of two covenants, two different ways of relating to God: the old and the new.
The old covenant is of the law, which leads to condemnation. The letter of the law, carved in stone, comes to a rebellious people whose hearts are stone, dead, unable to follow God’s commands; therefore the ministry of the letter brings condemnation and death.
Note that Paul was writing in a situation of controversy in the church of Corinth. He seems to mention this to suggest that his adversaries and accusers were engaged in a Moses-like ministry of condemnation and judgment against him.
But Paul says there is a new covenant of the Spirit which gives life (2 Cor. 3.6). Under the new covenant, the law of God is no longer carved in stone, but now placed in the hearts and minds of a forgiven people who, from least to greatest, will know the Lord (Jer. 31.31-34).
We are forgiven and restored to life through Jesus Christ. He died on the cross for our sins, He rose again to give us new life, and He ascended into heaven where He prays for us; and He is present with us now through His Holy Spirit. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. It comes ‘through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ.’ Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. And by the power of His Spirit, we are all the ministers, servants of this new covenant, agents of reconciliation in the church and in the world.
And so, together with the deaf-mute man and the crowd around him, we proclaim...
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together! ...
Sections I. and II. are borrowed liberally from here with some changes to the wording.
Section III. draws from Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT).